NCAA Hockey 101: Jack Eichel is awesome, North Dakota is stunned

(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

(Ed. Note: Ryan Lambert is our resident NCAA Hockey nut, and we decided it’s time to unleash his particular brand of whimsy on the college game every week. So NCAA HOCKEY 101 will run every Tuesday on Puck Daddy. Educate yo self.)

This past weekend was the first full one of the season in NCAA hockey, and it's natural that you'd want to draw all sorts of conclusions. After all, they do that after the first weekend of the season in the NHL, so why should the college game be any different? And while your average “IS VERMONT FOR REAL!?” story is at this point bound to be a little overblown given that it's only Oct. 13, there was still a decent amount of newsworthy happenings.

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The Big Story

No result this weekend could have been more shocking than North Dakota losing to Bemidji State. At home. 5-1.

None of these things should, in a rational universe, happen. Bemidji is a tiny school just two hours away from NoDak's home of Grand Forks, and the hearty Beaver fans who made the trip must have done so dreading things. Bemidji won just 10 games out of 36 last season, with no drafted players on the roster, and they were heading to the fortress of Ralph Engelstad Arena, where North Dakota lost just four times last season. They also have 14 drafted players on their roster. This could have (see also: should have) been a slaughter.

Instead, Bemidji's Brendan Harms scored a shorthanded goal in the first period, and then again midway through the second. After that, his teammates added three more in 2:04, and the game was a rout. And just to illustrate how territorially feeble North Dakota was, shots ended up being just 33-26 to Bemidji. St. Louis draftee Nick Schmaltz broke up Michael Blitzer's shutout bid on a power play with 6:52 to go in the game, but it was a garbage-time goal that didn't matter.


Bemidji ended up chasing Bruins pick Zane McIntyre after the goal to make it 4-0, and he left conceding four on 28. Bad night at the office for a kid who came into the season having posted .926 last season.

With all that having been said, this isn't a really big deal or anything. Last season, UMass Lowell, the No. 1 team in the country, lost its home opener to No. 59 (out of 59) Sacred Heart; the River Hawks still made the NCAA tournament comfortably, and still won their second straight conference title. North Dakota should be no different. They're still one of the top teams in the nation and this loss doesn't change that. It does put a little bit of egg on their face, of course, and give Bemidji something to feel good about.

Things returned to something resembling normalcy on Saturday, though. North Dakota won the second game of the weekend, this at Bemidji, 2-1.

Jack Eichel impresses, obviously

Okay, so the opponent (UMass Amherst) isn't all that great, but for a 17-year-old kid playing against players as old as 24 and 25, it wasn't a bad start to a college career for the kid who's likely to be the No. 2 overall pick in this coming draft.


He and his Boston University Terriers picked apart the Minutemen defense with a six(!!!!)-goal third period en route to a laughable 8-1 road win. His final line: 2-2-4 with four shots on goal. He and his linemates, free agent Ahti Oksanen and Sharks pick Danny O'Regan, combined to put up 14 of BU's 39 shots, and it now appears as though the offensive woes the Terriers faced last year — they were so bad their team slogan for this season is, I swear to you, “Never again” — are behind them. Having a borderline generational talent will usually do that for you.

The highlights on his points on BU's four consecutive goals in just over 10 minutes start at 1:30 of this video:

The shot on the first one: World-class. The vision and pass on the second: Superb. The accuracy on the third: Laser-sighted. The defensive play in the neutral zone on the fourth: Competent.


This kid has all the makings of a player who can do this to anyone at any point in the season. He might be Hockey East's Player of the Year in a runaway. It's gonna be a fun season on Comm Ave.

More non-shocking news

Meanwhile, it turns out that Minnesota is, like, still really good.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise. They didn't lose anyone of note besides some graduating seniors from last season, which was a team that went to the NCAA title game and lost to an unstoppable possession monster in Union.

And you can tell by the way they thundered out of the gate in the annual IceBreaker tournament. Down went rival Minnesota-Duluth, 4-3, in the opener (which started 3-0 and went as far as 4-1 before getting interesting late), then down went RPI in the final, 3-0. Adam Wilcox, probably one of the two or three best goalies in the country at this point, didn't have his best stuff Friday afternoon in the early game, but a 22-save shutout the next night will certainly have him feeling better.


As for the seven goals in two games? You can probably thank Kyle Rau, another good Panthers pick, who put up 1-3-4 and six shots over those 120 minutes. This is a two-way player of rare vintage in college, one that would lead the nation in possession numbers if the NCAA tracked that sort of thing, which it does not for a number of reasons not worth getting into here. They also got contributions from Buffalo prospect Hudson Fasching (2-1-3), as well as Columbus's Mike Reilly and San Jose's Michael Brodzinski (0-2-2 each).

The Gophers are a team that are going to carry some serious water this season. While you're always wise to take “the field” when making one-team bets on who's going to win a national title, the only pick for such a wager that wouldn't be totally unreasonable is Minnesota. If all goes as expected, anything less than 30 wins would be a bit of a head-scratcher. Again, they went to the national title game last season and improved in the summer.

BC, Lowell both surprise in weird game

Friday night in Lowell, No. 4 Boston College visited No. 17 UMass Lowell in one of the few battles of nationally-ranked teams for the weekend. It was also one the only battle between two such teams for actual points in their conference. And with the Eagles having bounced the River Hawks from the NCAA tournament last year, that alone could have portended an interesting matchup.


But both teams suffered heavy losses over the summer. BC to both graduation and pro signings, including its entire 198-point top line; Lowell to the same, but with a heavier emphasis placed on goaltending, as they lost the best goaltender in the nation to the Winnipeg Jets farm system. Question marks, as you can well imagine, abounded.

BC, though, had the on-paper luxury of having phenom 17-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifin (almost certainly a top-4 pick in this coming draft) as well as Minnesota first-rounder Alex Tuch as some of several high-profile prospects to join the team in the offseason. Lowell's freshman class was generally looked down upon as being unremarkable at best.

Also on-paper, BC has probably the best defense in the country, with Hanifin, Florida 2012 first-rounder Michael Matheson, 2013 second-round picks Ian McCoshen (also Florida) and Steve Santini (New Jersey) with undrafted but still-good Scott Savage and Teddy Doherty. They are backed up by Canucks second-round goaltender Thatcher Demko, who posted a .919 save percentage last season despite playing half the year at 17 himself.

And yet it was Lowell that rolled to a 5-2 win with an empty-netter, torturing BC and Demko specifically with efficient transition play and an ability to capitalize on own-zone mistakes that the ultra-talented Eagles could not match. (Hanifin, unlike Eichel, very much resembled a 17-year-old playing against grown men, even as he displayed some of his tantalizing talent in getting the puck forward.) Leading the way for Lowell was Edmonton fifth-round pick Evan Campbell, who scored a goal, and undrafted Joe Gambardella, who went 1-1-2. Kevin Boyle, a transfer from UMass Amherst, made 19 saves in the win.


Lowell's losses to graduation and pro signings were so heavy — in goal, down the middle, on both wings, and on the blue line; we're talking heavy-heavy — that many people were at least sketching out the rough drafts for their obituaries to the Midas touch of coach Norm Bazin, who in 2011-12 took a team that won five games to 24, then 28, then 26 last year. Surely this River Hawks team couldn't replicate that level of success. And based on the talent collected in Lowell, they probably can't be expected to win their third straight conference title

But given what they did to un-seam BC's defense, and to stifle its attack, maybe Bazin really does have this all figured out. In just over three seasons now, his teams — once and future write-offs as one-year or one-class wonders — have played the same brand of hockey regardless of who's cycled in and out, wringing 163 points from 121 games (a .674 winning percentage).

History shows that betting against Bazin's team is a sucker's bet. People might start believing again soon.

Somewhat arbitrary ranking of teams which are pretty good in my opinion only (and just for right now but maybe for a little longer too?)

  1. Minnesota (won the IceBreaker)

  2. Union (reigning champs won two at home)

  3. Colgate (split with St. Cloud in St. Cloud)

  4. UMass Lowell (beat BC)

  5. Providence (split with Ohio State in Columbus)

  6. Ferris State (only had an exhibition this weekend, a 4-1 win over Wilfred Laurier, but beat Michigan two weeks ago)

  7. North Dakota (split with Bemidji but they're still real good)

  8. Boston College (lost at Lowell, which lots of good teams have tended to do over the last few years)

  9. St. Cloud (split with a strong Colgate team at home)

  10. Alaska (won their own tournament, so they're 2-0 against Maine and Wisconsin)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here